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CicLAvia and gentrification: Eastside expansion troubles some residents

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Outsiders. Hipster invaders. Gentrifiers.

These are images of CicLAvia riders painted by Eastside residents concerned about the cycling event expanding into their community for the first time on Oct. 5.

These residents say that CicLAvia casts a worrisome spotlight on Boyle Heights and East LA, as the communities grapple with rapid gentrification. With home prices in Los Angeles among the country’s highest, people are increasingly turning to more affordable housing Eastside, to the dismay of long-time residents.

To them, CicLAvia feels like another example of outside forces coming into their community without consulting them.

“It is a genuine concern — the issue of gentrification and the fear that people have that when outsiders come in it’s not with an eye to appreciate what’s there but to snap up what they can,” said Sahra Sulaiman, a community journalist who covers Boyle Heights.

Sulaiman was part of a small but passionate group of residents from the Eastside who pressed for more community involvement as they met with CicLAvia organizers at an informational meeting Tuesday at the East LA library.

The October "Heart of LA" event will be the tenth edition of CicLAvia. The Eastside route will make up less than half of a 10-mile ride that goes through Echo Park, downtown LA, Chinatown, Boyle Heights and ends at the East LA Civic Center.

The group asked to provide input on literature CicLAvia is producing for the event and stressed the need to give special emphasis to local businesses.

Residents also described the negative cast that cycling has acquired. Cited at the meeting was a controversial bike tour planned of Boyle Heights by a real estate company selling the neighborhood to prospective homebuyers priced out of downtown LA. The tour was cancelled after backlash from residents.

“There’s a lot of talk about hipster invasion,” said East LA boutique and gallery owner Rosanna Ahrens. “We’re trying to be respectful, but we are worried about it.”

CicLAvia spokesman Robert Gard reassured residents “it’s not a bunch of Westside, hipster types invading a community.”

Gard said that CicLAvia riders are representative of Los Angeles County in terms of geography, ethnicity and economic background.

Henny Alamillo, who works as CicLAvia's volunteer coordinator, said that many participants are just riding their bikes for the first time in a long while.

"A lot of people find (CicLAvia) a safe haven to get around and do something without the pressure of cars, "Alamillo said. "

Turnout was low at the informational event with about 10 community members in attendance; there were just as many representatives from CicLAvia, Supervisor Gloria Molina’s office and the city of LA.

This is despite the fact that a few weeks ago, CicLAvia staff started knocking on the doors of some 800 residents and businesses along the ride route to let them know about the event and pass out fliers.  

“From my experience in our community, one-on-one interaction can be a challenge if we don’t know the organization or the person,” said an East LA business owner and artist who goes by Endy.

Asked about CicLAvia, a handful of East LA library patrons said they had never heard of it, though college student Brenda Ayala seemed intrigued.

"I think it may be something different," Ayala said. "People on their bikes — they're exercising as well."

Sulaiman said CicLAvia is little-known in part because cycling is not a popular pastime in the area.

“In Boyle Heights and East LA, you have a lot more people that walk,” Sulaiman said.

Sulaiman said CicLAvia’s draw for these communities will be “if they can promenade with their families, enjoy picnics or have kids’ activities that can facilitate multi-generational happenings.”

Jesus Huerta, who owns the Gallo Bakery in East LA, urged CicLAvia organizers to be more visible in the community. He suggested that they show up at the upcoming Mexican Independence Day parade along Cesar Chavez Avenue on Sept. 7.

“Be part of the community and the space,” Huerta said.

CicLAvia staffers warmly received the idea and noted that the organization is already reaching out to Spanish-language media.

CicLAvia is helping to pay for the expansion into East LA with a $2.35 million grant from Metro, secured with help from Molina's office. Molina staffer Erica Juarez said CicLAvia has worked hard to do outreach in the community.

“We really think it’s good for business and we don’t want to hurt the culture or East LA in any way,” Juarez told residents. “We’re working together early so we can hopefully calm you guys and make you feel good about this.”  

This story has been updated.

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